Institute viewed as a top work-health research centre globally

The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) “easily ranks” among the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world and has made “remarkable progress” in advancing work-health knowledge over the past five years. These assessments were made by an international panel convened to evaluate the quality, relevance and impact of the Institute’s work from 2002 to 2006.

Every five years, the Institute’s Board of Directors commissions an independent review by an expert panel to assess the Institute’s research and knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) programs and provide recommendations for the next five years. The seven-member panel – chaired by former WorkSafeBC president and CEO Ralph McGinn – submitted its final report to the Institute’s Board in May.

The panel’s 2007 report highlights the great strides the Institute has made in conducting research to support the improvement of worker health. 

Over the three-day meeting held in Toronto in March, the panel met with 18 different groups who commented on areas of the Institute’s work. Members of these groups included researchers, clinicians, health and safety association staff, employers, organized labour, students, policy-makers and injured worker representatives. The panel also received written submissions from more than 40 individuals from policy-making organizations, international research institutes and others.

The panel was delighted with the thoughtfulness and openness of both the participants appearing before it and the individuals who provided written submissions. The willing participation of research partners and stakeholders in the review process speaks highly of the Institute’s broad engagement in the field and the respect that it has garnered, says the report.

After the meeting and reviewing all submitted material, the panel wrote a comprehensive report and made eight recommendations for the Institute’s consideration.

The report is an important component of the Institute’s planning over the next five years, says Institute President Dr. Cameron Mustard. We will draw on the panel’s recommendations and consult with Institute staff, key agencies and partners to develop a strategic plan for 2008 to 2012.

Three general areas in which the panel made comments and recommendations were student training, knowledge transfer and exchange, and funding issues.

Training new researchers is vital

From 2002 to 2006, the Institute continued to build and strengthen its role of training and mentoring young researchers. More than 70 graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, sabbaticants and visiting scholars have worked on many research projects while at the Institute. In addition, the Institute funds two scholarship programs: the S. Leonard Syme Training Fellowship in Work & Health and the Mustard Fellowship in Work Environment & Health. The panel noted the “very valuable role the Institute plays in building provincial and national researcher capacity” and recommended the Institute continue to maintain and protect its role in training, educating and mentoring students.

Significant advancement in KTE

One of the recommendations from the previous five-year review in 2002 was to ensure that relevant stakeholders knew about the Institute and how to make contact. In reviewing this and other past recommendations, this year’s panel noted that IWH’s knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) program has “advanced significantly over the past five years, building strong relationships, engaging stakeholders early in the research cycle and bringing them to the table to better inform the Institute’s priorities.”

One significant area of direct stakeholder involvement is within the Institute’s systematic review program. According to the panel, “the evolving expertise in systematic reviews has brought researchers and scientists into more collaborative working relationships with many non-research partners. It has facilitated knowledge transfer and exchange approaches across the full cycle of a research initiative and expanded the Institute’s activity in educating various stakeholder groups in the field.”

Funding issues addressed

The research program’s expanded activities over the past five years were applauded by the panel. The Institute has continued to receive consistent funding from the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board and has increased its overall operating budget by increasing funding revenues from external grant sources. These sources now account for approximately 34 per cent of the IWH’s total funding which, the panel says, reflects well on the energy and talent of the scientists and attests to the quality of the Institute’s work. In order to maintain and enhance ongoing and future research interests, the panel recommends that the Institute should “look strategically for additional sources of core funding.”

Source: At Work, Issue 49, Summer 2007: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto